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Who killed FJT?

The audience will help solve this mystery during the presentation of an interactive play, “Dead Heat: Murder at the Race Track,” at Maple Grove Cemetery in Kew Gardens on Saturday, Nov. 19, at 7 p.m. (Tickets are $35.)

Frederick J. Taral was felled by a flying horseshoe, according to the script. It’s a fitting fatality for a jockey who won 1,437 races – including the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and Belmont Stakes – but foul play is suspected.

After a buffet style dinner of baked chicken, sliced ham, rice with pigeon peas, broccoli melody and corn bread in the cemetery’s Celebration Hall, those present will be joined by 12 volunteer actors from the Josephine Foundation. Dressed in clothes fashioned from the Victorian and Edwardian eras, the performers will play the roles of notable people who are interred at Maple Grove, including Taral, who wasn’t a murder-by-horseshoe victim in real life. (He died of pneumonia in 1925.)

Samuel “Puzzle King” Loyd, a United States Chess Hall of Fame inductee, will be the evening’s master of ceremonies. Solving this mystery should be easy for a man who created more than 10,000 puzzles, including Trick Donkeys which brought him fame and fortune, before passing away in 1911.

Colonel John R. Stingo, a columnist with The New York Enquirer with a colorful personality who was well-known in the bars around Times Square in the 1950s, will be part of the detective crew. Ditto for Neva Ayer, a Vaudeville actress.

The thespians will provide clues, and the audience will ask questions. As a special treat, Natalia Paruz, an Astoria resident known as “The Saw Lady,” will play hand bells and a saw, making eerie sounds to set the mood. Then, after an intermission featuring apple and peach cobbler, those present will identify the perpetrator and bring him/her to justice.

This is actually the fourth murder mystery that the cemetery has presented recently. Carl Ballenas, a member of the Friends of Maple Grove, wrote the other three dramas. This one was created by two other board members, Arturo Enamorado III and Ada Vernon.

All the plays involve characters who are interred in Maple Grove. They are part of an ongoing effort to promote the burial ground and its permanent residents.

“We want to tell their story in different ways,” said Ballenas.

Photo of Saw Lady is from her Facebook page
All other photos are courtesy of Carl Ballenas

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